Sublime theatre and music, Ainadamar, WNO, WMC


At the end of the performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s opera Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears) I felt surprisingly moved by this new work from the Argentinian composer that focusses on the murder of the poet Lorca during the Spanish Civil War. I am still not sure whether it was the music and singing or the superb dramatisation by Deborah Colker and, of course, it is both. This first night of Welsh National Opera’s rather small autumn season was a very different experiencethan we usually get, probably due to this being a multi organisation co-production.

This show combines accessible contemporary music, fine performances, imaginative and effective theatricality, all wrapped up in gorgeous flavours of Andalusia and febrile early twentieth century idealism and ultimate tragedy. If all of these appeal you will swallow up this feast. If not it may be just not the right recipe, the wrong combination of ingredients. For me and I suggest by the reaction of the audience, most were extremely pleased by their choice from the menu.

The show premiered with Scottish Opera last year and for this WNO tour it is largely a new cast except for the glorious flamenco singer Alfredo Tejada, whose portrayal of the Falangist officer seared into your soul with its disturbing melding of beauty and menace. The contrast with Hanna Hipp in the trouser role of Federico Garcia Lorca, could not have been more pronounced. The latter cool, suave and elegant, as the homosexual poet and artist whose words are projected, and which finally fill our vision as the intensely emotional story reached its climax.

The fountain of tears is a well outside Granada where Lorca is believed to have been executed by fascist forces, although it is debated as to exactly why he was selected.

Hanna Hipp

The story is dramatically relatively straightforward, and the opera could slip into being an emotionally charged, possible over-charged, concert performance. Yes, it has dramatic variety and musical development, taking the form of the actress Margarita Xirgu, star of Lorca’s play Mariana Pineda, telling her student Nuria, of Lorca and his death. However, it is it the method of using a flashback through sung narrative which could have prove statistic, even with David Henry Hwang’s vibrant libretto. Of course, it sounds perfect in Spanish but the English and Welsh surtitle translations aid our comprehension. Jacquelina Livieri lived the role of Margarita Xirgu; Julieth Lozano Rolong captured the sympathy and care of Nuria. WNO chorus members Jasey Hall, Gareth Dafydd Morris and Alun Rhys-Jenkins gave strong support in the roles of Jose Tripaldi, Torero and Maestro.

Colker takes both and transforms them into what makes Ainadamar a spellbinding theatrical work. Near hypnotic video projections by Tal Rosner appear on designer Jon Bausor’s circular space of hanging threads; a curtain through which characters move, circulate around and frames scenes, overcoming any needs for irritating set changes that so often destroy the flow of work. It is the fountain which is at the heart of the entire story. At the denouement a blood red new set of threads slowly descend on to Margarita as the already emotionally supercharged performance leaps into another gear of Andalusian despair and vocal angst.

This could so easily have slumped into a pathos of swirling flamenco, clicking castanets and Carmen-like nonsense. When we do have a flamenco guitarist, dancers and singers they are used sparingly and subtly. We have projections of the ubiquitous Spanish bull and then disjointed, surreal, broken, jumbled stage furniture, and most hauntingly, faces captured by photography from the horrific Civil War.

Some of the tableaux are works of art in themselves.

Golijov’s music is seductively played by the WNO orchestra, conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, in this one hour and twenty miniutes intoxicating performance.

Further performances at Wales Millennium Centre September 17 and 26 and then touring until November 22.

Julieth Lozano Rolong

Jacquelina Livieri

Alfredo Tejada

Jacquelina Livieri and Hannah Hipp

Images by Johan Persson

Further performances at Wales Millennium Centre September 17 and 26 and then touring until November 22.

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